I’d like to use this opportunity to reflect on what we do to support Business, as it’s a very big part of the British government’s activity here in Australia. I’m very clear that, given the need to promote jobs and growth in the UK economy, my government’s highest priority for me and my fellow Ambassadors around the world is to promote British business. Personally I have quite a lot of relevant background on this with an MBA, my time as a Managing Director at UKTI HQ, and a secondment to an international bank.
So how have we been doing? The UK economy has now returned to sustainable growth: it will achieve 3.1% this year, the fastest in G7. Unemployment is lower than you’d expect after the global financial crisis, and coming down. And it feels like that when you go there. It’s no longer just a London phenomenon. When I was addressing the Warrington Chamber of Commerce in the North West earlier this year, I heard lots of local SME exporters saying that their order books were improving and they were starting to hire new staff.
Australia has been a particularly bright spot, with UK exports to Australia up 65% over the last six years, and now standing at around £10bn. Some of the largest growth sectors have been cars, sophisticated machinery, clothing, and services like travel and transport, business and professional and insurance and pensions. Some recent statistical revisions have had a significant impact on how we capture economic data. Incorporating elements of the grey economy like drugs and prostitution, to conform to international standards, means that the UK economy is actually a bit bigger than people had realised. Our exports last year were a little down on 2012, due to a combination of the slowing Australian economy, and also some statistical revisions.
So what do we actually do here in Australia to support business? I have around 100 staff spread across 5 posts. Some 36 are badged as UK Trade and Investment, UKTI, the team that Nick McInnes, our Consul General here in Sydney, leads. Of these, seven seek out and help Australian companies looking to invest in the UK, providing advice, support and introductions. The rest work to help British companies do business here. The Perth team leads on natural resources, Melbourne on construction, ICT and Healthcare, and Sydney on advanced engineering, creative industries, financial services and education and training.
During my time here UKTI corporately has evolved its strategy. Trade Minister Lord Livingston talked about this when he visited earlier this year. The big picture is the government’s target of £1 trillion exports and £1.5 trillion inward investment by 2020. The Trade aspect of that is particularly challenging, given the continued sluggish growth in some of our important markets in and out of the Eurozone and the strengthening pound. UKTI are now focusing more on real world outcomes or “business wins”, and less on outputs, such as revenues earned from companies we charge. They are also more focused on a “campaigning approach” with coordinated efforts around big projects, for example in Australia around the national and state transport infrastructure plans. That’s why PMs Cameron and Abbott addressed an infrastructure event in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. This is obviously a sector where the UK has many strengths.
What exactly do our individual trade officers do? They provide tailored support to UK firms pursuing opportunities in the most promising sectors. This can range from a simple introduction to an important contact, to in-depth market research. They also use digital channels such as LinkedIn and webinars to reach out to UK firms to keep them up to date on the latest market developments. They go back to the UK to take part in road shows around the country, such as Explorer Export. I went to the East Midlands earlier this year and talked to a number of companies, from IT to pork pie makers.
My trade team have grown their client base 25% this year and are on target to support over 2,000 UK business clients. Companies have confirmed to us that UKTI support helped them win over £100m of contracts this year.
The overall picture on inward investment is a pretty good one. We’re meeting our targets. Last year we supported 63 inward investment projects into the UK. Globally UKTI saw a 14% increased in the number of successful projects in 2013/14. From Australia, particularly successful sectors include: ICT, Life Sciences, and Business, Professional and Financial Services (BPFS). The UK is a natural first port of call for Australian companies expanding internationally. Earlier this year near Manchester I visited an incredibly innovative Australian company in the Geographical Information Systems space. And up in Brisbane I met a Queensland company, Transit Systems, who now run a significant part of London’s buses.
Recently, the British government has placed a particular focus on encouraging overseas institutional investment in UK infrastructure. We have ambitious spending plans and are looking for foreign capital. The UK is an incredibly open economy. People here are often surprised to know we’re allowing a Chinese/French consortium to build our next generation nuclear power stations. Australian pension funds already have significant stakes in our water, power and airports utilities, and are actively looking for more. One important role for my team is ensuring we feed back messages from these investors when they have concerns, for example recently around price pressure from the regulators.
One important, but not widely known, area of UKTI work is Defence Procurement. We have a small team in Canberra from the Defence Sales Organisation, which is part of UKTI, but works very closely with my Military Adviser, an experienced RN Commodore. BAe Systems is already a huge player in the Australian defence industry. I was here in Sydney last week for the commissioning of HMAS Canberra, Australia’s newest and largest ever warship. The superstructure and complex systems integration all took place in BAe’s Williamstown shipyard in Melbourne. We see Australia’s future maritime procurement programmes in frigates and submarines as offering significant potential for collaboration with the UK.
Apart from the work of the UKTI teams, other bits of the High Commission economic team work to support business. Our so called “Prosperity” work is focused on promoting the right conditions for growth. This means making sure markets work efficiently and fairly to help business flourish. Obviously in an advanced market like Australia there is much less to do in this area than in emerging economies, where many barriers and rigidities remain. So we are often working together with Australia on common challenges we face internationally, such as transparency, corruption, and regulatory structures.
Some of these issues featured on the agenda for the very successful G20 meeting which Australia hosted in Brisbane last month. Australia has won a lot of plaudits for its work on corralling countries to come forward with growth plans which collectively will raise global growth by an extra 2.1% by 2018.
My team also works with the Australian government on Trade policy. We co-operate in the WTO, where Brisbane helped find a compromise that unblocked the Trade Facilitation Agreement concluded in Bali last year. Both of us are involved in a range of bilateral and plurilateral trade deals. I’ve been very impressed by the negotiating successes of Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb in NE Asia over the last 12 months. PM Cameron used his recent speech in Parliament here to support the calls for a future EU/Australia trade deal. This may take a little time yet to get going, but has a lot of potential for both sides.
Another thing governments do that affects Businesspeople in their daily lives is the way movements at the border are regulated through visa policy. All governments want to encourage some people to enter (like investors, students, tourists) and keep others out (like terrorists). I’m pleased to tell you that David Cameron announced, while he was here, a big step forward for regular Australian visitors to the UK. Any Australian who visits four or more time a year can apply to be a Registered Traveller which will give access to the electronic gates and the EU queues at Heathrow and Gatwick.
Finally I should mention some of the campaigns that my team are involved in to promote the UK’s overall brand and reputation. Many of you will be aware of the GREAT brand, which has been deployed very effectively around the world since being developed for the London 2012 Olympics. Here in Australia we did a GREAT business event with a double decker bus at the Opera House. And in Melbourne we have done a couple of GREAT events around the F1 Grand Prix, one of which led to me appearing on the Hamish and Andy show.
So in conclusion, I think it will be clear that supporting business is a really big part of what British High Commissions and Consulates do. It is certainly a big part of what I do. It’s also an enjoyable one. And we’ve been quite successful, though there’s always more to do. But I’m always conscious that it’s business themselves who actually close the deals, who compete on innovation, technology, service and price. I think when we work with you effectively, it can really be a winning partnership.
Contact the UKTI team in Australia for more information and advice on opportunities for doing business in Australia.